Is it hard to imagine wanting to go to the doctor to have blood counts drawn somewhat painfully for your arm? Two small, simple, innocuous events recently. Last night my wife, Tish, and I loading and spreading mulch on the front garden. And Saturday a trip to the gym – I started this just five weeks ago but have been off on vacation for two weeks. After both events, I got tired and short of breath early on, and was exhausted by the end of each. The most reasonable explanation, the most plausible is lack of conditioning.
And yet I am a cancer survivor. My mind drifts back to that other explanation. My leukemia is back. My bone marrow has gone crazy again and is putting out an abundance of defective lymphocytes much to the detriment of red blood cell production. My breathlessness and fatigue may be due to anemia related to recurrence of my leukemia. Even though it has been 56 months since my stem cell transplant with no evidence of disease in between.
The simple resolution would be a simple blood test, a CBC. But my next appointment is weeks away. For almost four years I was going to the clinic every two weeks or so. At times I stretched it to three weeks but whenever I went tried for four weeks, my body would rebel and crash with some kind of weird infection. This past year has been better (if you don;t count the two hospital admissions for kidney stones and diverticulitis). I have been able to go a full month, then two whole months. My next date with the doctor will be three months since the last one. And that is definitely a record I want to achieve.
As many of you have undoubtedly experienced, going to your oncologist becomes a lifeline of support, a security blanket that, despite all complaining, you are reluctant to give up. A professional medical person offering scientifc evidence and judgement that, yes indeed, you are still in remission. Your cancer is still lying low.
At five years since my last bout with cancer, myself and my doctors are starting to skirt around the word “cured”. (My disease, t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia or t-pll, originally carried a median survival of just 7.5 months) And yet in the still of the night that quick pain in the abdomen or the memory of being so tired earler in the day – the mind races backward into the memory of fear and the unforgetable face of cancer.